I'd like to share a 'buying' experience I recently had that was quite disappointing and frustrating to me. And I wonder if I could ask you to take the time to share your opinions. Settle in cuz as usual, I'm wordy!
Many years ago I ran across a piece of mass-produced metal art that I thought would be perfect to hang outside. We were completely revamping our backyard and this fit our style well. It was a purchase from BiMart and cost me $20 (we put a wood backing on it so it's just the metal part that I bought). After hanging it up, J loved it and really wanted at least 2 more similar pieces to fill in more space (what you are seeing is our concrete block garage that we covered with a lattice that has been stained...we now have evergreen hydrangeas that grow fast and vine-like entangling with the lattice to cover a lot of the space).
And a very blurry picture (sorry, it's all I could find) so you can see what it looked like last year and to see the full extent to show why we wanted two more pieces to fill in more space.
So I periodically started doing online searches to find something similar (the product wasn't available via BiMart anymore). And I never could find anything like it. This past year, I was struggling to come up with a great Xmas present for J and so started seriously trying to figure out if I could have something similar made locally. Starting with a recommendation from a friend I made tons of calls both locally and with businesses I found online that did metal work. And finally found that a couple local high schools had laser machines and that this would be pretty simple to do. The teacher I ended up talking to was enthusiastic and said no problem, he even had a student in mind that knew more than he did about this type of work (the teacher is new and I think wanted to initiate things like this with the community so was very helpful). He didn't think it could be done by the holiday season (which was not an issue for me...J knew I was doing this and so essentially I had already given the gift) but was positive they could get it done a couple weeks into the spring semester.
I wanted 2 pieces and so drew the designs I wanted to have cut, and then we met with the teacher and student...taking in the original so that they would know what we wanted (size etc). Both were enthusiastic and told me how easy and inexpensive this would be, only taking a couple hours of the student's time and not very much in materials (and showed us the cutting machine which is pretty amazing by the way). We didn't finalize a cost, but they estimated it would cost about $25-$40 per piece and that would cover the student's time, the materials, and a 'rental' fee of sorts with the school. I was very satisfied with this but did say that we wanted to be fair to the student.
Throughout January I kept getting emails that told me the student had taken on more projects and wasn't working on ours very much, sorry for the delay. Which was fine. I really had no timeline for this...I was just happy I was finally getting them. But then, issues starting arising. First was that they were having difficulties with the designs and it was taking them a bit longer to get them set up into the computer. I asked if I could help...change them to make them work better...and if not, could I see what was being cut before they proceeded to know if I'd like what changes had been made. My request was ignored. Irritation number one.
Then mid-way through January I received an email from the teacher telling me that he had been to an art market (maybe in Portland but I'm not sure) and after seeing what artists were charging for metal-work, they had reconsidered what this would cost. And made it appear they were being generous since the pieces at this market were so much more expensive (ridiculously expensive in his words). And asked me to pay at least $100/piece (which was half to the student, half to the school). I was pretty astounded and in all honesty, pretty angry at both him and me (me for not setting up a formal price from the beginning...I was too trusting).
Now, don't get me wrong...I'm not cheap and want to pay fair for someone's time. But the thing I was angry about was the comparison of this project (which was someone else's original idea in terms of shape, size etc but with 'my' designs to be cut...quoted because they were pulled heavily from stencils I had...which is okay in my mind because I'm not selling anything with those designs) to a project that was original artwork where the artist not only designed and made every aspect of the art, they also have to pay for travel and booths (among other things) etc to show at these markets in order to make a living (and a hard one at that). And to me, this is like comparing apples and oranges. If, I had asked the student to come up with an original design, the comparison gets a little closer.
I responded as such to the teacher, trying very hard to be diplomatic and generous and told him that without knowing the cost of materials and how many hours the student put into this project, I was having a hard time figuring out a fair price for these pieces. The teacher responded that he understood and that $75/piece was fair. I actually didn't think this was unfair, but it was twice the estimate I was given at the beginning with no indication of actual costs and time put into it. I agreed because I wanted to be done with it.
A couple weeks later, I got word that one piece was done and could I come look at it to make sure it was what I wanted. Scheduling became a problem that week and so he sent a picture of it. I wasn't actually happy with it since they had taken liberty with the designs and not let me approve those changes but frankly just wanted this ordeal done. So I told him I was completely satisfied and asked him to let me know when the other was ready. About a week later, the teacher told me that he hadn't been satisfied with the framing and they decided to do something different. So, by the way, you'll need to pay $20 more in materials. I wasn't given a choice. Which felt manipulative to me. I had already approved the piece and again, things were changing at an added expense to me.
Finally, months after starting this process, I was told that the pieces were done and I could pick them up. Again I requested some indication of the time the student spent working on this project so I could be fair with payment. And again, I was not given this information...just a request that maybe I would want to pay him a bit more than we agreed on.
The pieces are okay...and some of you may look at them and think they look fabulous and what is my problem (that's sort of what J said!)? They will be fine...they just aren't what the teacher/student and I agreed on nor do I think are 'worth' what I finally ended up paying for them (when I picked them up and after I had paid, I asked again how long it had taken, and finally was told 5 hours...and when I picked it up, the teacher told the student I was there to pick up 'his art'...the lesson hadn't been learned yet). (they are different colors BTW, because the student accidentally sprayed an anti-rust solution on one...considering we want it to rust...)
Understand that though some people in my life may choke on their drink if they heard me say this, I am not a confrontational person and I avoid it as much as I can. That said, if I had dealt with these issues from a professional metal-worker, I probably wouldn't have stood for it and made sure that in the end, I was getting exactly what I agreed to pay for. But a teacher and student situation really complicates this for me. I paid more than twice what was originally agreed upon for something I wasn't happy with. I let them manipulate me essentially because I didn't feel like I had the right to expect so much from a student.
If you have stayed with me for this long, please share you thoughts on:
- How would you have handled this situation? Is there a difference because it was a student rather than a professional? If so, should there be?
- Do you agree with my position that this was more a contract situation rather than purchasing a piece of original artwork and thus the costs should reflect that?
- Now that it is over, and knowing that the teacher wants to do more projects like this in the future, do I let it go? Or do I send an email which very diplomatically lays out what I think went wrong with our interaction? It won't change anything for me, but I feel like the teacher and student need to know that how they approach such collaborations in the future should be changed. And maybe say a bit about what is original artwork...considering when I was leaving they showed me pieces of yard art that they had copied exactly from someone else's pieces...and they wanted to sell it as their own.
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Now playing: The Cobbler's Daughter by Kate Rusby